Problems arose because the ship was late leaving Italy after a refit. In order to maintain its schedule for the rest of the season, the original 23-day itinerary, which was billed as "including some of the most exciting destinations in the central Mediterranean" will now be reduced to 16 days and some of the more unusual ports of call including Venice, Valetta, Dubrovnik and Hvar, have been abandoned.
Passengers have been given the option of re-booking on another cruise, getting a full refund if they decide to cancel, or - if they set off on April 2 - pro-rata compensation for cruising days and excursions lopped off the original itinerary.
The delays were a result of strike action by workers at the Fincantieri shipyard in Sicily, where the former Bleu de France has undergone a four-month, multi million pound refurbishment to become Saga Sapphire. "The ship is now due to arrive in Southampton today said Paul Green, Head of Communications for Saga. "But it will take another week to load provisions, stock the library and fit the soft furnishings, mattresses, linen, cutlery and so on, so that she is ready to sail.
"This delay is hugely disappointing for everyone concerned, especially as the ship is absolutely fabulous. The hold-up was out of our hands and although we knew several weeks ago that there were problems, it was not clear until recently just when we would be able to get the ship out of Palermo.
"We considered cancelling the cruise altogether, but we knew that many passengers had booked precisely because they wanted the inaugural cruise. So we took the difficult decision to postpone the departure and go ahead with a shorter itinerary, keeping as much of the original cruise as possible. But it has been a hectic time. Because of the date change we have had to re-book some berths and shore excursions at the very last minute."
Despite the disruption, Saga reports that most passengers on the 706-passenger ship have opted to continue with the cruise, which will now call at Ferrol, Cartagena, Palma, Civitavecchia for Rome, Ajaccio, Almeria, Gibraltar and Lisbon.
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